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Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Dr. Mohler is a theologian and ordained minister, and serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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To Be Cool or to Be a Church? That is the Question

These days, what passes for important argument or debate takes place on Twitter, and a recent Twitter exchange between two prominent actors has sparked a major controversy.

The exchange took place between Hollywood’s Ellen Page and Chris Pratt. Page tweeted, “If you are a famous actor and you belong to an organization that hates a certain group of people, don’t be surprised if someone simply wonders why it’s not addressed. Being anti LGBTQ is wrong. There aren’t two sides. The damage it caused is severe. Full stop. Sending love to all.” In the tweet, Page specifically indicted Pratt for his membership in what was alleged to be an anti-LGBTQ church. The church in question is Zoe Church, a church in association with the Hillsong movement. There can be no question that Page not only targeted Pratt but took direct aim at any organization or church that holds to anything even remotely connected to a biblically informed sexual ethic.

Pratt responded to Page, stating, “It has recently been suggested that I belonged to a church which hates a certain group of people and is infamously anti LGBTQ. Nothing could be further from the truth. I go to a church that opens their doors to absolutely everyone. Despite what the Bible says about my divorce, my church community was there for me every step of the way, never judging, just gracefully accompanying me on my walk. They helped me tremendously offering their love and support. It is what I have seen them do for others on countless occasions, regardless of sexual orientation, race, or gender. My faith is important to me, but no church defines me or my life, and I'm not a spokesman for any church or any group of people. My values define who I am. We need less hate in this world, not more. I am a man who believes that everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgment of their fellow man.”

That last line encapsulates the modern secular orthodoxy – “everyone is entitled to love who they want free from the judgment of their fellow man.”

Pratt’s “defense” of his church also represents the thinnest ecclesiology—a conception of the church severed from the Scriptures. He claims that “no church defines me or my life.” According to the Bible, the church does define us. Whereas Pratt denies that his church defines him, the Scriptures teach that the church founded by Christ is the family of the living God, bought by the blood of Christ, in covenant together for the cause of the Gospel. That is the vision of a biblical church. Such a church, bound together in obedience to Christ, absolutely defines a member’s life.

But Pratt also indicates that his church opens its doors to “absolutely everyone,” and that his church in no way holds to an anti-LGBTQ agenda. Which is it? Does his church, as Page claimed, teach the sinfulness of homosexuality or not? Does it uphold marriage as a union between one man and one woman or not? To answer these questions, you have to go back to 1983.

Hillsong was formed in that year as a charismatic church in New South Wales, Australia. Founded by Brian Houston and his wife Bobbie, the church grew in worldwide influence, most famously for its music. People from around the world sing Hillsong music and the movement’s worship style is now found world-wide. What began as a charismatic church in Australia now claims over 100,000 people attending weekly services in Australia, London, New York, and Los Angeles. In 2014, Michael Paulson of The New York Times wrote an article that attempted to introduce and interpret Hillsong to a secular audience in Manhattan. The headline of the article read, “Megachurch with a Beat Lures a Young Flock.”

The article described Carl Lentz, the pastor of the New York-based Hillsong location. The article cited other religious leaders who criticized the church for its thin theology. I was quoted in the article saying, “It’s a prosperity movement for the millennials in which the polyester and middle-class associations of Oral Roberts have given way to ripped jeans and sophisticated rock music.” I went on to charge Hillsong with the minimization of the Gospel and a diffused presentation of spirituality.

Over the last 5 years, the teaching of the church has grown even more opaque. It continues to minimize essential truths of the Gospel and surrenders to the growing tides of secularism. To what, then, could Ellen Page’s tweet refer when she charged the church with anti-LGBTQ teachings? In 2015, the founder of Hillsong, Brian Houston, said, “We do not affirm a gay lifestyle. And because of this, we do not knowingly have actively gay people in positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid.” He went on to affirm that Hillsong welcomed gay people in the church but that they could not serve in leadership roles.

Then, in 2017, with LGBTQ issues boiling over into the culture, Carl Lentz of the New York congregation missed several opportunities to clearly express his views on homosexuality. In an interview with CNN, he gave a non-answer, stating, “It’s not our place to tell anyone how they should live. That’s their journey.” That statement amounts to nothing less than an abdication of biblical Christianity. Lentz described the church as body with no authority, no responsibility to summon its members to Christian discipleship. Jesus commissioned his disciples to establish a church of obedient followers—sons and daughters of the living God who would devote their lives to the glory of Christ and his kingdom.

Discipleship to Christ makes objective demands on conduct, virtue, and morality. God revealed in Holy Scripture his commands to his people, and God calls his children to live in obedience to his commands and statues. Moreover, as the Apostle John wrote, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” [1 John 5:3]

Where you find a church, you find a community of believers striving for holy obedience to God. Conversely, a church that doesn’t tell people how to live in obedience to Christ isn’t a church at all.

When so called churches blur the lines on the authority of Scripture and surrender core theological commitments, they will slowly but surely give way to the pressures of modernity. Hillsong is trying to represent a new inoffensive and hip Christianity, but it’s teaching and messaging on LGBTQ issues will be offensive to anyone who takes a closer look. Hillsong gives a wink and a nod to the sexual revolution and fails to instruct its members on what the Bible says.

Something far more important underlines the controversy between Ellen Page, Christ Pratt, and Hillsong church. This issue isn’t about Page, Pratt, or Hillsong—it’s about you, me, and our churches. Every church will soon stand trial in the high courts of modernity. The secular storm will leave no place to hide. Hillsong gave its answer: it would rather be cool than convictional. The nod towards cultural relevance leads to theological confusion—a deliberately marketed confusion.

The controversy coming out of Los Angeles is yet another rather rude awakening for those who want a church that is simultaneously cool and Christian. That possibility evaporated long ago, when the culture decided that biblical Christianity is decidedly uncool. So, which will it be? That is the question.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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